By Dr. Nancy Going, Director of the CYF Distributed Learning Program at Luther Seminary
Crowds have been a part of Youth Ministry culture since Youth Ministry began. The Christian Endeavor Movement found itself with 50,000 attending its 1895 meeting. Denominations started their own fellowships in response, and many still hold large events that are a fixture in the youth ministry calendars of their churches. With large events come celebrities, people who excite the crowd. Large churches and large youth ministries create celebrities as well. But does celebrity foster spiritual formation?
When Terri Elton and I were at The Future of the Church conference at Group Publishing two weeks ago, there was no conversation about celebrity and mass events being the future of the church. There was conversation about how celebrity is one of the three things that is killing the American church.
Yes, the crowds were a part of Jesus’ ministry, and there’s evidence that Jesus was sometimes “celebritized” by them (like deputized?). But the interesting thing is that Jesus never sought the crowds, and there is no sign that he encouraged a fan following. Jesus taught and cared for the crowds, but in the gospel witness, Jesus made very sure he wasn’t about the crowds. In fact, almost every story about Jesus and the crowds talks very pointedly about how he left the crowds. And it never talks anywhere (Matthew, Mark, Luke or Acts) about how the crowds were the source of the discipling life of faith for the followers of Jesus or for the early church.
It makes me wonder, what does being in the crowd and being wowed by celebrity actually DO for our life of faith? We talk about the excitement of being with so many other Christians, and the insights that this or that Christian celebrity brings to our faith. But do those activities and insights actually translate into encouraging us to listen to and for God even more profoundly? Do they actually move us to leave our nets and follow to the uncomfortable places where Jesus calls us? We decry the troubled Brittney Spears and Katy Perry youth culture, but do we turn around and just substitute a Christian version of the same? And could it be that the more we do that– introduce kids to crowd and celebrity Christians– the less likely it is that they will want to spend time in the kinds of spiritual relationships and practices that will grow and sustain their faith over the long haul? Could it even make it more likely that what we will just perpetuate the desire for being wowed and being led by celebrities?
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Nancy Going is a life-long youth minister, who loves Jesus, other people learning to love Jesus, her husband Art Going, and the two new families that are her kids and grandkids.
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